By Nina Keenam
The drive was long from Louisiana, over six hours, with only a couple of short breaks. No wonder the eight-year-old sitting on my couch after the journey while two adults carried on a lively conversation began to look bored. He was tired of the television program he was watching. He loves running, jumping and turning flips outside, but he was in an unfamiliar place so his grandmother wanted him close. It was hard for him to stay still. He began shifting his position on the leather couch.
It was obvious to me that he was well-mannered. I knew he was not going to interrupt mine and his grandmother’s chat.
He needed some attention. “Did you enjoy the long drive with your grandmother?” I asked.
“He slept some,” his grandmother answered.
He shifted positions again. “I told her to wake me up when we came to bridges,” he said.
“You like bridges?” I asked.
As a child traveling around the state of Alabama and on our annual summer Florida vacations, I never really liked bridges. I remember I was so afraid of crossing several of them on our routes that I actually closed my eyes tight and hid them with my hands when we approached those particular structures. Of course, aside from once driving across a rickety one with no rails that scared me silly as an adult, I have mostly overcome my dread of crossing bridges.
I admit I did not feel exactly comfortable when my husband and I and our children crossed Florida’s Sunshine Skyway Bridge, a long steel cantilever bridge over Tampa Bay, years ago. Cantilever bridges have steel trusses supporting the weight of the load-bearing deck. To me, the Sunshine Skyway Bridge just seemed to go on forever with no land in sight. Maybe that view of the bay was appreciated by most, but not so much by me.
I think I might still be a bit edgy crossing Tampa Bay on the new bridge for which construction began in 1982. I would probably be overwhelmed with its height of 190 feet above the water (50 percent higher than the original) and its length of 4- plus miles (29,040 feet).
On May 9, 1980, a destructive thunderstorm smashed a freighter into the original bridge, the one we had crossed. That occurrence resulted in the collapse of over 1,000 feet of the bridge tumbling into the water. Besides the collapse, it claimed the lives of 35 people. The replacement is a cable-stayed bridge with cables extending directly from towers or pylons that support the load-bearing deck along the bridge. I found pictures of both bridges along with some fascinating information about the newest one. It stretches from St. Petersburg to Bradenton, Florida. The cable cases are painted bright yellow, representing sunshine in the Sunshine State.
If my little visitor who loves bridges has yet to see the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, I imagine his face will light up like a beam of that Florida sunshine.
Columnist Nina Keenam may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.